The Yousuf of Scotland

It is significant that 96% of Scotland’s population is still white in colour
The Yousuf of Scotland
GK Photo

Humza Yousuf, whose grandparents came to Scotland from Pakistan in the 1960s, was sworn in as the First Minister of Scotland on March 29. Earlier, on March 27, the Scottish National Party (SNP) which espouses the cause of Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom elected Humza Yousuf as its leader. Nicola Sturgeon who had led the party and the Scottish government since 2014 decided to resign from office in mid-February. Sturgeon implied that she was doing so because she could no longer give her best to her duties, thereby, indicating that she was getting tired with the demands of her jobs as head of party and government. However, some observers feel that she wanted a new leader to now confront the difficult issues, including that of Scottish independence.

Following Sturgeon’s decision some SNP members, including Yousuf, began to contest for party leadership. He faced a stiff challenge from Kate Forbes whom he narrowly defeated in the second round of elections in which eligible SNP electors voted. It is interesting that when Charles III is formally coronated as King of the United Kingdom in May this year, unless some unanticipated development occurs, both the Prime Minister of the UK and Scotland’s First Minister will be of South Asian origin.

In his acceptance speech as SNP leader on March 27, Yousaf said “My final thanks is to my grandparents, unfortunately who are no longer alive to see this day. I am forever grateful that they made the trip from the Punjab to Scotland over sixty years ago”. Yousuf’s grandparents origin lay in Mian Channu tehsil in the Khanewal district of Punjab in Pakistan. Yousuf went on to add these moving words about his grandparents “As immigrants to this country, who knew barely a word of English, they could not have imagined that their grandson would one day be on the cusp of being the next First Minister of Scotland. As Muhammad Yousuf worked in the Singer Sewing Machine Factory in Clydebank, and as Rehmat Ali Bhutta stamped tickets on the Glasgow Corporation Buses, they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams, that two generations later their grandson would one day be Scotland’s First Minister”.

The fact is that both UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Humza Yousuf have not led their parties to victory in elections. Nevertheless, the fact that they have reached the top of their parties and now hold the high offices they do is indicative of social and political change in the UK. This does not mean that racial prejudice is a matter of the past but it does show that vast numbers of the UK’s peoples are moving on to beyond colour in making political choices. This applies particularly to the younger generations of which Sunak and Yousuf are a part. Sunak is 42 years old while Yousuf is just 37. In this context it is significant that 96% of Scotland’s population is still white in colour.

A Scottish parliament and government are a relatively recent phenomena in UK governance. In 1707 the Scottish parliament was suspended and the country developed a purely unitary political system. All powers vested in the British parliament though it had members from Scotland. However, the Scots have always taken pride in their distinct personality and long fought to maintain it. This was not apparent in the British colonies to which many Scots went to have better prospects. Hence, the fact that there were differences and even prejudices among the British colonialists was masked from the colonised peoples.

Once the colonial enterprise was over Scot sub-nationalism gathered steam though the Scottish Nationalist Party which now is the spearhead of the movement for Scotland’s independence was established in 1934. It had little political resonance for the first few decades after the Second World War but in in 1998 the British government was compelled to begin the devolution of authority to Scotland and a legislature and a Scottish administration was formed. As the Scottish National Party continued to work for independence the British government allowed a referendum in 2014 in Scotland on the question of independence. Around 55% of the population voted against independence but the remainder did vote for it. This large segment’s sentiments could not be ignored and a further increase in autonomy was given to Scotland.

Today the powers with the Scottish government and legislature are more or less like those with a state under the Indian constitution. All areas where the country has to assert its international personality have been retained by London. Thus, foreign affairs, defence and national security and international trade are areas where the Scottish government has no role. Significantly, the SNP was against Brexit and one of its main objectives remains to re-join the EU. That is hardly likely as Britain has absorbed the shock of Brexit and has moved a considerable distance to establish linkages in trade with its major partners to secure its economic and commercial interests. Besides, the Scottish government cannot go in for a referendum on the independence issue on its own. The UK Supreme Court has held that only the British parliament can seek to do so. That is unlikely anytime soon because while the SNP is Scotland’s largest political party and has the largest number of MPs in the British parliament it has not been able to convince the majority of the Scots to seek independence.

The question is will Yousaf be able to make a difference in this area of vital interest to the SNP. That seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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